Paul Hardcastle: The Snoozejazzmaster

You’d slide out of your chair too. From boredom.

Jazz: noun, often attributive \’jaz\ a type of American music with lively rhythms and melodies that are often made up by musicians as they play

Jazz. Say the word. J-A-Z-Z. Paul Hardcastle calls his side project “The Jazzmasters.” If he means he plays instrumentals, it is. If he means truly understanding the idiom, it’s not.

A lot of jazz albums end up in my mailbox.  A few are good.   Some are terrible.  There are some rare gems, but most are competently mediocre.

The Jazzmasters VII is total shit.   It is dull beyond belief.   It is tedium, tiresome and the embodiment of the worst of snooze jazz.   It didn’t even hold my interest long enough to get me to hate it.

The not-so Secret Sauce of Hardcastle’s success is his music is designed, calculated, formulated and manufactured so as not to deviate from the template. There is no discernible difference between a Jazzmasters release and a Hardcastle solo joint. They are interchangeable and the sound faithfully follows Hardcastle’s freeze-dried jazz/chill formula. This sort of Tinker Toy, generic pap is popular in the same way McDonald’s french fries are popular: all the consumer must do is consume. Whether it provides any nutritional value is purely secondary.

The titles are generic. “Unlimited Love,” “Soft Rain” and “Starlight Express” sound like names for bottles of perfume. Songs start, stop tinkle quietly and fade away. There isn’t a single hook or a spontaneous moment. There are no twists, no turns, no diversion, no digression, and no deviation, only cold efficiency.

To be a jazz master shouldn’t you actually play jazz?

If you’re a fan of this sort of thing and dig Hardcastle’s chilled out drizzle and you’ve consumed his past product here’s some more of the same old same old. At this point in his career, Hardcastle can be described as one football coach described the other team: He is who we thought he was. Only in the most liberal sense of the word can the sound recordings of Hardcastle be even remotely considered to be any sort of “jazz.”

It is false advertising to proclaim there are any masters of jazz on The Jazzmasters. Hardcastle certainly isn’t interested in lively rhythms and melodies that are often made up by musicians as they play. This is background music. It’s too mechanical, too bloodless  and too flat-out lazy to be anything more than empty sound.

Duke was a jazz master. Miles was a jazz master. Thelonious was a jazz master. Paul Hardcastle is about as much a jazz master as a Kardashian sister.    Before he dubs himself a “jazzmaster” he should learn how to play some first.

Track Listing: Unlimited Love; Rhythm of Life; Free to Fly; Starlight Express; Soft Rain; Domino Effect; Pulse of the Universe; Unlimited Love (the Strings), Come On; Breathe; Echoes of Eternity; Rhythm of Life (Chill Reprise)

Personnel: Paul Hardcastle: unspecified instruments; Rock Hendricks: saxophone; Paul Hardcastle,Jr. : saxophone idea (1); Maxine Hardcastle: backing vocals (2); Cindy Bradley: trumpet (1); Margo Ledue: backing vocals (3)

Record Label: Trippin n Rhythm Records

A different version of this review originally published at All About Jazz.

 

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Paul Hardcastle’s No Stress Success

Paul Hardcastle‘s greatest strength? Consistency. Paul Hardcastle’s greatest weakness? Also consistency. Before you applaud or boo Hardcastle you must admit this: the man knows what he does best and he is not about to stop doing it based on what critics say when his global audience tells him that’s exactly the way they like it.

There is essentially no difference between Hardcastle’s solo and his Jazzmasters releases. The same musicians appear on both. The music is interchangeable as well. Even the album covers have similar generic art of sunsets, waterfalls and dreamy-eyed models deep in reflection.

Is it formulaic? Yes, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He delivers what his fans want: consistency and professionalism. Hardcastle is still a one-man band weaving smooth jazz and chill with a gutsier version of New Age soundscapes mashed up with electronic beats, airy wordless vocals, bubbling keyboards and silky saxophones riffs. This sort of workmanlike approach goes against the grain of the jazz aficionado, but that’s probably not Hardcastle’s target demographic anyway.

That doesn’t mean Hardcastle is averse to incorporating a few variations on his successful theme. On VII he goes long; as in 11 minutes long on the lead-off “The Truth (Shall Set You Free)” and a few other tracks blow past the six and seven-minute mark. Everything you would expect from Hardcastle is here. The beats, the vocals, the keyboard, the sax and that ever-present mood of dreamily lying in the grass staring up at the clouds as they roll by is here in abundance.

paul_hardcastle_vii

Where “The Truth (Shall Set You Free)” goes beyond expectation is it is a song suite without being called one, as it changes in subtle shifts and displays a greater than usual degree of innovation and complexity. Hardcastle layers the instrumentation and vocals with a change-up near the 8:00 minute mark. If it never quite achieves grandiosity, “The Truth (Shall Set You Free)” is proof Hardcastle is willing to push himself from time to time.

Nothing else on VII aspires to that level of ambition, though “No Stress At All” is admittingly inspired by the Kool and the Gang‘s “Summer Madness” it has some fine moments. The remainer of the album is the usual indistinct soundscapes.

Hardcastle may never have another big hit like “19” or “Rain Forest” in his repertoire, but maybe he doesn’t need one as long as he keeps his devoted following happy even as his continued popularity baffles his critics.    You can fight  but you’re not going to make Hardcastle switch.  He knows what he knows and he does what he does.

Track Listing: The Truth (Shall Set You Free); No Stress At All; Summer Love; Crystal Whisper; Easy Street; Dance of the Wind; Apache Warrior; Stepping On Shadows; Love Is A Power; The Truth (Shall Set You Free) Reprise

Personnel: Paul Hardcastle: keyboards, programming, unspecified instrumentation; Rock Hendricks: saxophones; Maxine Hardcastle: lead and backing vocals; Paul Hardcastle, Jr. : unspecified instruments; Helen Rogers: vocal samples, Mark Hasselbach: trumpet (2, 7)

This review originally published at All About Jazz.